“It hasta be SHASTA” — April 16, 2016
A couple weeks before we left Vancouver, Tyler and I took a Glacier Travel & Crevasse Rescue course up in Whistler. The irony of our timing was not lost on our group — “So you’re taking a glacier travel course…and then moving to California?”. But when we mentioned that we had planned a road trip through Oregon and Northern California our guide had one word for us — “SHASTA!”
Mt Shasta sits at 14,180′ (4321 m) making it the 2nd highest peak in the cascades after Rainier. And yes it does have glaciers. Shasta towers over the surrounding mountains and even has its own soda named after it, Shasta Soda! The plan was to ski the summit in one day car-to-car.
With the conditions lining up perfectly, sunny with no winds and low avalanche hazard, our first stop was into town to pickup our ice axe and crampon rentals, summit permit, and map from The Fifth Season. Next, we drove up to the 7000' Bunny Flat trailhead where we would setup camp for the night.
There was over 6 feet of snow when we arrived at the parking lot. Our first night in sunny California would be camping in the snow!
Our chosen route would be Avalanche Gulch. It climbs 7000' to the summit; through alpine meadows, past Helen Lake (where many overnighters make camp); at this point it gets much steeper ascending past Red Banks, and then up the aptly named Misery Hill to a false summit (the high point you can see in this photo) and then finally the true summit.
The next morning we woke up before dawn for an early start. By the time we had packed up camp and had a light breakfast the sun was starting to rise on Shasta.
The first couple hours of touring meandered through a fairly gradual climb. Within an hour, the heat of the sun was quickly melting the surface of the snow. With our current latitude and elevation, and the sun reflecting off the snow, sunscreen was definitely mandatory.
The hardwork really began on the climb to Red Banks. As the grade increased we switched from skis to bootpacking with our crampons & ice axes. At this point, there was still over 3000' of climb remaining to the top. One of the parties ahead of us had ski crampons which looked a bit easier - something to consider next time. The melting snow made bootpacking quite a slog, but it was too slippery for skinning at that grade.
Around 12,000’, we both began to feel the effects of the altitude and our pace slowed substantially. Finally reaching the top of Misery Hill, we ditched our skis and backpacks and pushed to the top unburdened from all the extra weight. Right below the top is a smouldering volcanic crater that smells of sulphur — evidence that this is definitely a volcano.
After nearly 9 hours of climbing we made it to the summit!
The summit views gave an expansive perspective of Northern California. The prominence of the peak is what makes this mountain so special. For example, the nearest mountains to the west are about 5000` below the summit of Shasta. We later looked up the elevation of nearby Mt. Eddy which has a respectable height of 2,751 m (taller than Whistler), but compared to Shasta those mountains looks like foothills.
A group of hikers arrived at the top just as we were getting our skis setup for the descent. For them it would be a multi-hour hike/glissade back down, but for us it was a quick descent — our reward for carrying skis all the way up there! The combination of tired legs, altitude, and sticky snow made for an entirely unenjoyable (but quick!) survival-ski back to the car.
With the Shasta summit checked off our list it was on to the final destination, San Francisco.